Elementary students’ dreams came true last month when French President Francois Hollande promised to ban homework in all of the country’s public schools.
The announcement was just one part of the newly elected president’s robust educational plan, which attempts to prioritize learning and equalize students’ abilities to succeed. In addition to eliminating take-home assignments, Hollande plans to extend the school week from four days to four and a half days of classroom instruction.
The idea behind the decision to ban homework and increase class time isn’t new: Students from wealthier homes typically have more involved parents and access to resources that give them an unfair advantage over their less-wealthy counterparts.
But though this argument has its merits, it does not justify the changes Hollande is promising.
Using homework as a scapegoat for classroom inequality jeopardizes parent involvement in their child’s academic pursuits. Removing the tool that parents rely on to help their children succeed only caters to less-involved parents. And weakening parents’ roles as at-home educators, Hollande’s proposal hurts the type of overall education that students, particularly younger ones, need to thrive in school and beyond.
Proponents of anti-homework policies argue that many parents simply complete homework for their children, unfairly inflating certain students’ report cards and providing no academic value. Indeed, a Los Angeles Times survey found that 43 percent of parents have done their kids’ homework.
But responsible parent involvement with homework has also proven to be dramatically beneficial to students’ successes. A study of elementary and middle school students by Joyce Epstein, a leading Johns Hopkins University professor on school, family and community partnerships, found that parent involvement drastically boosted sixth and eighth-grade writing scores.
Whether ideal or not, parent involvement in schoolwork might have a positive effect overall. Homework directly corresponds to increased student performance, and it is the most common tool that parents rely on to promote learning. The Institute of Education Sciences found that 65 percent of parents check to make sure that their high school students’ homework is completed each night. And a study conducted by online academic system TeacherEase estimates that missed work drops by 41 percent when parents are involved in their students’ homework.
Despite this wealth of statistics, the trend to equalize the academic playing field is a concept being played with all over the United States. Gaithersburg Elementary School in Maryland recently replaced homework with a mandatory requirement for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading, and charter schools across America are extending their hours.
Just as in America, Hollande plans to extend the school week by adding a half-day on Wednesday, which French students usually have off. But France should take a lesson from its own statistics: More time in school doesn’t correspond with improved performance.
French students already spend more hours per year in school than average — 847, compared with 774 among countries in the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation, which measures academic performance among almost all developed countries.
Yet France ranks 21st in reading among countries in the OEDC.
In contrast, Finland, which is the third lowest in terms of total classroom instruction per week, according to an OEDC study, has one of the highest-ranked public school systems in the world.
Students with more involved parents or those from wealthier households will always have resources that others do not. Whether it’s access to personal tutors or the privilege of graduating debt-free, it is impossible to eliminate the benefit of wealth or parent investment for certain students. But the overall benefit of homework more than justifies this disparity. Parents have always been, and need to remain, the main conductor of a child’s academic success — and homework allows them to do so.
In the end, Hollande’s regressive proposal will not improve the quality of learning in French public schools, but will only lower academic standards for everyone.
Ryan Townsend is a sophomore majoring in business administration. His column “The Blame Game” runs Tuesdays.